US House passes first abortion-related bill of year

Thursday, April 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Armed with the support of the White House, abortion foes moved their first bill of the year through the House on Thursday _ legislation that would make it a federal crime to harm a fetus.

The House, by a 252-172 vote, passed the measure after a lengthy and charged debate. Moments earlier, Republicans held off a Democratic amendment that would have stiffened penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman but not made harming the fetus a separate crime.

``Life and death should not be subsumed beneath a semantic fog,'' said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Republican sponsors who brought the bill to the House floor Thursday shunned the word abortion. Rather, they characterized the measure as an effort to get tough with criminals who harm ``unborn children.''

``This is not an abortion bill,'' said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. ``Without this bill, crimes against these innocent victims will go unpunished.''

Abortion rights advocates derided the GOP measure as a bid to get a fetus declared a separate person _ an idea they say was rejected by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

``This would be the first time in the federal legal system that we would begin to recognize a fertilized egg, a zygote, an embryo or a fetus. That's what the bill is trying to do,'' said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. ``No sneaking around today, fellas. We're going to have to put it all on the table.''